ABA and All that Jazz!

ABA and All That Jazz!

Information to Improve Understanding

ABA – There are many misconception and a lot of misinformation about what ABA is floating around on the internet! ABA is simply the science of human learning… it explains how people learn and it uses those principles in planning for the development of socially significant behaviour, What is socially significant behaviour – those things that people want to be able to do to participate to their fullest in whatever way they can/want in their environments. Our environments vary: home, school, and community are three broad categories, but within these, there are subcategories. We as humans have decided to live together in societies and as a result of that, society holds certain expectations that are written into laws and bylaws. Although there are rules, societies are comprised of diverse individuals each of whom bring something special to their environment. The goal is not conformity, the goal is to “let your light shine”, to be welcomed, to be honoured and to be accepted.

Below are some important terms and links about ABA, teaching and Neurodiversity to help caregivers.

Capabilities Approach to Human Development – CA was developed by Sen and Nussbaum. CA seeks to help people achieve their real freedoms – that they value as individual humans. It puts people first. A healthy society is one in which all people have the opportunity to enjoy a long and healthy life, have a meaningful job, and to have and be valued by friends and family. The ultimate goal is to help create a life in which the individual is happy and flourishing – each as an individual human being. At FIVE we use a CA approach when working with families and individuals-served. 

Neurodiversity-Affirming: Being neurodiversity-affirming means that we acknowledge that people experience the world in different ways as each person’s brain is different. Moreover, it means that we believe that every person is of value. Neurodiversity-affirming practices are rooted in social justice theory and the social model of disability. Humans have always been neurodiverse; however, understanding and acceptance of the value of neurodiversity is a more recent conversation (we have a long history in Canada of institutionalization and eugenics). We know that our role is not to change a person, rather our role is to make changes in the individual’s environment and teach skills to help the individual be their best person. Essentially, neurodiversity-affirming care is a form of cultural competence. Clinicians who are neurodiversity-affirming have taken steps to be aware of possible biases and to gather appropriate knowledge about individuals served before working with them to ensure their experiences are honoured and their voices are heard. We are neurodiversity-affirming at FIVE. 

Social Model of Disability – The Social Model of Disability initially arose within the community of physically impaired individuals, but has now extended to include all neurodiverse individuals. It states that society disables people with impairments. Disability is something imposed on top of impairments which leads to isolation and exclusion from community due to physical, attitudinal, communication and social barriers. Here’s a link to a Site with a video

Socially significant behaviours are those behaviours that are valued by the individual served that lead to a flourishing life in their desired environments.

Stereotypy (Stimming) – is a diagnostic criteria associated with ASD and several other medical diagnoses. Stimming is the repetitive performance of a variety of motor movements or vocalizations. For most individuals, stimming serves as a form of self regulation and will occur more intensely when individuals are feeling bigger emotions such as excitement or frustration. We feel that anything that helps a person self-regulate is a good thing unless it is dangerous or unhealthy (extreme over-eating, high levels of alcohol consumption, illicit drug consumption, etc). We do not teach neurodivergent individuals to stop engaging in stereotypy if it is important to them and their self-regulation: this would not be neurodiversity-affirming and it is unethical as per the Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts section 3.01.

Neurodiversity Affirming Disclosure – The individual served is rarely present when a diagnosis is given, yet it is important that children are made aware of their diagnosis as research indicates that older children experience anger when they feel their diagnosis was withheld from them. When and how do you as a parent disclose? The University of Washington has a Top 10 Tips sheet to help parents. 

Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) – The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is one of many behavioural therapy programs for children with autism between the ages of 12-48 months. ESDM does not use intensive teaching strategies and focuses on natural environment teaching. It is based on the methods of applied behaviour analysis (ABA). The goal of ESDM include improved learning and language abilities and adaptive behaviour and reduced symptoms of autism. ESDM website.

Identity-First vs. Person-First Language – The use or not of person-first language is a sensitive, important discussion, not unlike discussion of appropriate and respectful gender terminology involving individuals who self-identify with a non-binary gender (something other than “male” or “female”). This is a particularly relevant concern in the autistic community, where a long history of erasure, exploitation, stigma and misunderstanding has led to strong emotions about how people with autism — or autistic people, depending on what someone prefers — are identified and discussed. This is a personal choice and is reflective of the individual’s identity. 

Medical Model Addressed – “There are no right or wrong brains” – everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. Deficits are the focus of the medical model we need to reframe how we see Autism. The neurodiversity paradigm is introduced presenting ASD as part of a range of ways of thinking because we know that people are disabled by their environment. Check out this link

Natural Environment Teaching – Natural Environment Teaching (NET) is a scientifically proven teaching method which allows ABA practitioners to incorporate the learner’s natural environment into the teaching, development, and generalization of skills. Research indicates using natural environment teaching increases the likelihood that learners generalize their skills, or use their skills more readily outside of therapy. NET Link.

Pairing: “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like” Rita Pierson. FIVE’s staff pair (get to know the individual served and build relationships) to make learning possible. Check out the importance of relationship. 

PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System – PECS is an alternative communication system developed by a BCBA and SLP in the 1990’s. It teaches verbal behaviour, meaning it teaches people to use words represented by pictures to ask for things, comment and respond to questions. PECS is a well researched, systematic teaching procedure that begins by teaching learners to engage with a communication partner to ask for things they want (it teaches that asking for things when you’re by yourself, doesn’t work). The primary goal of PECS is to teach functional communication to make life easier for kids with limited ability to ask for things they want. Research has shown that some learners using PECS also develop speech. Others transition to a speech generating device (SGD). Pyramid has many videos

Picky Eaters (Fussy Eaters) – These are those individuals who refuse to eat certain foods based on physical appearance or another characteristic such as packaging or presentation. Picky eaters often consume refined carbohydrates because of the “sameness” of these items; for example, crackers are always the same shape and texture. This is different than selective eaters (now called AFRID) which is a phobia associated with foods. Toddlers are commonly picky eaters as are individuals who have been given a diagnosis of ASD as they are often very visually acute! Check out this link for ideas to help

Positive Reinforcement – Positive reinforcement is something we do after a behaviour that causes it to happen more. Smiles, hugs and privileges are all great examples of different types of positive reinforcement. Using positive reinforcement is a great way to teach your children good behaviour. Watch this video for examples of how to use this strategy. Pay attention to the good things your child is doing to strengthen those behaviours. Here’s a great short video from Parents magazine. 

Verbal Behaviour – Verbal behaviour is a collection of language and communication skills. When focussed on teaching verbal behaviour, learners connect words with their purposes. Verbal behaviour does not focus on words as labels; rather, it teaches why we use words. Learners are taught to ask for things they want (mand) – note you can ask for information, to stop or for specific things – this is all manding; comment (tact); use words to answer a question, teach, tell a story, or have a conversation (intraverbal) or imitate words when learning (echoic). Verbal behaviour is taught using many different techniques including EDSM, Natural Environment Training, Pivotal Response training, PECS, modeling, and discrete trial. Here’s a mini video primer.